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O'Donnell insists 'evolving' Tribe can match Mayo intensity levels

It's more than 100 years since Mayo have beaten Galway in five successive Connacht Championship games, but another victory for the Green and Red on Sunday will match that 1909 achievement.

Gary O'Donnell was an unused sub in 2008, Galway's last Connacht final win and the day of their last championship win over Mayo. That was a memorable day for the then 20-year-old Tuam Star, but the most recent meeting between the sides at Pearse Stadium was one to forget.

On their way to a third provincial title in a row, Mayo devoured Galway by a record score and from O'Donnell's outlook on the bench, it made for horrific watching until his introduction.

Galway were blitzed by the Donie Buckley-schooled high-intensity Mayo. O'Donnell hopes Galway are more prepared for battle this Sunday in Salthill.

"A lot of people are probably talking about it but for us it's done, it's in the past. We're looking to the next game to the next time and after Sunday everyone will be talking about that game, they won't be going with what happened two years ago.

"But we were unprepared for the level of intensity they were going to play at. They were a Division 1 team for a few years and competing at the highest level. We walked into the unknown really and they kind of blitzed us.

"They played at a level of intensity we weren't used to and we needed to learn from that and hopefully we will," said O'Donnell.

Under Alan Mulholland, Galway tried to hone their tackling technique after that defeat and as the game of Gaelic football changed, so too did the Tribesmen. Perhaps their transition has been slower than other counties, but O'Donnell thinks you have to move with the times to match teams like Mayo.

"It's something we've talked about in the last few years a number of times, but we haven't been simply able to put it into practice in the field," he said.

"We have trained hard, we've tried to become more physical the way the game has gone. We fell behind in that the last few years. We like to play open, expansive football, but at the same time the likes of Kerry and Dublin have had to adapt. We're looking to do the same and reap the rewards."

O'Donnell, 27, does not come from your typical north Galway parish that is ensconced in footballing heritage. Born to Mayo parents, the centre-back was raised in the hurling stronghold of Gort and, according to many, he was a better hurler than footballer growing up.

His uncle Ja Fallon won two football All-Irelands with Galway in 1998 and 2001, so he's aware of what's needed to get across the line. Yet despite his Mayo heritage, he has little pity for their scant history when it comes to finals day.

"They are a fine side. You'd have to respect what they've done over the years," he said.

"When you see them knocking on the door for so long, I suppose the neutral would want to see them get over the line, but to be honest I take no preference for any team come the rest of the championship.

"I don't take any opinion on it either way. I wouldn't take any liking to another team, I just watch it as a neutral spectator and enjoy whatever is on offer.

"They have a stranglehold on the province but we are obviously looking to stop that. Certainly the fact they've had such success in Connacht is definitely a driving force to stop it or turn it around.

"But as you see, in the '60s and '70s Galway had their periods of dominance and Mayo had to turn it around and hopefully we can do that as well."

Irish Independent